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One of the most immediately recognizable symbols of Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday for honoring and celebrating the dead, is the calavera — an ornate skull decorated with brightly colored flowers, animals and more. Calaveras take the form of anything from masks to candy.

Though the term can be used broadly to describe skull depictions of any kind, it is most commonly associated with the celebration of the holiday, when it is often given to children as a treat or placed on an ofrenda, an altar of offerings to the dead.

This Saturday the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art is inviting the community to come create some calaveras of their own — in the approachable form of a collage.

“The project this week is simply colors, shapes, patterns and images in a collage that reflects this culture,” said Shannon Erickson, NEHMA’s coordinator of learning and engagement. “There are several shapes, colors, patterns that are traditional for the Day of the Dead, and we’ve tried to teach a little bit of culture and then let people explore and make their own representation.”

The collage-making is part of NEHMA’s Community Art Days, which take place at the museum the second Saturday of every month.

“We are an educational museum … so part of our mission is to promote dialogue that is important to the people of Utah,” Erickson said. “We try to connect the public and the community and schools to the process of artmaking as well as talking about the art.”

Dia de los Muertos is generally celebrated in Mexican communities throughout on the first two days of November. As part of wider efforts to celebrate the holiday on campus, linguistics and Spanish professor Maria Luisa Spicer-Escalante worked with Latinx Cultural Center Associate Director Celina Wille to set up an ofrenda at the museum in October.

Ofrendas are offered in memory of deceased relatives, often featuring the aforementioned calaveras, as well as candles, marigolds, and photos, memorabilia and favorite foods of the dead. The ofrenda in the museum, which will stay up until Nov. 15, was visited last week on Dia de los Muertos by a campus procession.

Displayed alongside the ofrenda are photographs from a trip Spicer-Escalante took with husband and fellow USU Spanish professor J. P. Spicer-Escalante to Mexico cataloguing celebrations of the holiday throughout urban and rural areas.

Tying the displays and activity to the museum is the display of photographs by artist Celia Alvarez Muñoz featuring “ofrenda-like” arrangements of “clothing, religious objects and calaveras.”

“It’s a great way to get people to the museum. We try to tie in the Community Art Day events and activities to something on view, so it’s not just a craft for craft’s sake,” said Phillip Brown, PR and marketing coordinator at NEHMA. “They can look at the stuff on view and be inspired by it and make their art projects here at the museum.”

Previous art days have included making papier-mache doughnuts as part of a Jean Lowe installation and a found-objects assemblage to coincide with the display of John Outterbridge’s work in the museum as part of collected works by Black artists.

Despite its craft-y nature, Erickson emphasized Community Art Days are an all-ages activity.

“A lot of people think it’s geared toward children, but we usually have more adults show up than children,” she said.

Initially called Family Art Day, the name was changed to broaden its demographic reach. Erickson said the event has developed a “cult following” of USU students with a passion for making art.

“We have students from USU, we have small children, we have teens and we have adults that just like to come and make art,” she said. “So it’s very open.”

NEHMA holds Community Art Days on the second Saturday of each month. This week’s calavera collage activity starts at 10 a.m. and runs until 12:30 p.m. The museum is located on USU’s campus at 650 N. 1100 East in Logan.

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